Before I begin, I should take a moment to explain the significance of Tolkien’s work in my life.
I am a fantasy author. That means Tolkien is to me what Jesus is to Christians.
My love of the fantasy genre can be traced to my early childhood, and two things in particular. The first is Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, and the second is “The Hobbit.” My teacher read it to my class in school, and afterward, I insisted my parents obtain copies of it and “The Lord of the Rings” and read them to me ad nauseam.
The first school play I ever performed in was a production of “The Hobbit.” I donned an absolutely ridiculous plush lizard suit and played the role of the dragon Smaug — to critical acclaim, I might add.
I was not often accepted by the other children in my early years, but one of the first games I was allowed to join was them playing out “Lord of the Rings.” I got to be Gimli.
My father, who had been working with a local carpenter at the time, crafted me a battleaxe out of wood, and my mother used a wood-burning kit to put “Gimli, Son of Gloin” onto the axe in Norse runes. I still have the axe.
Around this time, I contracted chicken pox. What followed was a week of utmost misery as my entire body became covered by burning, itching sores. The only thing that kept me sane through this was my parents reading “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” to me until they were hoarse.
Years later, Peter Jackson came out with his films of the books. I still remember my exact words as I came out of The Fellowship of the Ring: “Best. Movie. Ever.” And I meant it.
And The Two Towers was even better.
The point I’m trying to make is this: few things, fictional or real, have had a greater impact on my life than the works of Tolkien. So as you read this review, keep in mind that I am in no way an impartial observer when it comes to Middle-Earth.
The elephant in the room:
Let’s start with the obvious. Yes, they’ve turned a fairly short book into three massive films, and yes, this is a blatant attempt to milk more money from the franchise.
But I view this the same way I view Blizzard Entertainment’s decision to release Starcraft II as a trilogy of games. As long as it leads to more content, and as long as the quality of the end product remains good, I don’t care that it’s a shameless cash grab.
The effort to stretch out the story is apparent when you view this movie. This is not a quick movie, and they have played fast and loose with the exact details of the story to pad it out.
But you know what? I don’t care.
Tolkien’s world is so deep and his stories so gripping that they can stand up to this treatment. Peter Jackson may be adding more to the story than was in the books, but he’s largely just expanding on elements that were only implied or explained in brief in the books. He’s not just pulling stuff out of his ass to make a fast buck.
Whatever liberty’s might be taken, this is still The Hobbit at a very fundamental level. The important things are all there. Simply put…
They got it right:
That might not sound like especially strong praise, but when it comes to the works of Tolkien — and when I’m the one saying it — that’s about as high praise as could possibly be uttered.
“The Hobbit” was a very different book from its trilogy of successors, and this movie captures that. This is a very light-hearted and whimsical movie, and it seems aimed at a younger audience than the Lord of the Rings films were. Which is exactly what it should be; Tolkien wrote this book for his children.
The casting, as with the previous films, is pitch-perfect. Sir Ian McKellen isn’t good as Gandalf; he is Gandalf. Martin Freeman is excellent as Bilbo — the right mix of awkwardness, charm, and wit. I’ve always been a little iffy on Andy Serkis’ portrayal of Gollum, but he does a lovely job in this film.
But who really steals the show in this movie is Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield. This man is brilliant. His portrayal of Thorin — equal parts noble heroism and frightening obsession — exactly matches how I pictured the character in the books, and every single of one of his scenes exudes gravitas.
I feel the beginnings of a mighty man-crush.
And, of course, the soundtrack, the visuals, and the action sequences are all as good as you could hope for.
That’s not to say the movie is perfect. The first half does feel a little lacking. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it boring — it does, in fact, have a lot of enjoyable moments — but it doesn’t have the same sparkle and shine as the previous films. It’s merely good, not great.
But then they got to the Goblin caves. Cue nerdgasms.
To be honest, I’m not sure there’s a point in my posting this review. With a movie this big, I’m sure everyone has already made up their minds whether to see it or not, and pretty much everyone who will already has.
But whatever. It’s my blog. I’M YOUNG. I DO WHAT I WANT!
Anyway, to those who might still be on the fence about whether to see An Unexpected Journey (all two of you): do eet.
Overall rating: 9.1/10 SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY, JACKSON!